One of my favorite things to do as a child was to scrounge for Blackberries. Even though I lived in smack dab in the middle of town, it was easy enough to find the thimble-sized deep purple berries in the patches of woods scattered around the river town. Once I wrote in my diary in the summer after 4th grade, “Today I had Blackberries for lunch and Honeysuckle [Columbine] for desert”. Ah, the sweet life of a 10 year old…
Blackberries are still my favorite berry, though I am also partial to Blueberries. While I was reading over my notes from my internship in Vermont this fall, I came across a tidbit about Blackberry. It was from a wonderfully informative Saturday class taught by Micki called “Using Plants to Heal the Earth.”
“Blackberries keep people back! Brambles are seen in area of development; warrior plants that protect the impeded ecosystem from more mindless invasion. They are pioneers, creating fungal soil as woody plants do, making the soil hospitable to forests if they ever grow back.”
A good friends noted that Portland, OR is full of extremely thorny Blackberries, making it impossible to navigate through the woody areas. Now I know why they are there. I love it that more and more I am seeing plants as keepers of the earth. Each has a purpose or few. They can tell us about the ecosystem and the soil. We can stop fighting them in our gardens and lawns and start thanking them for their hard work.
There are few plants that I don’t welcome into my backyard garden now, especially since my beds are very new. One exception: I am not too crazy about brassicas in my garden, they grow too well and crowd out other plants. The plants that naturally grow in my beds that were sod for decades prior help me in two ways. First they tell me about the quality of my soil. Second, the “weeds” work to make the soil more hospitable. I wonder what the mustard says about my soil…any ideas?
The Dandelions, Burdocks and Mulleins break up the compacted soil, calling in nutrients from deep down with their taproots. I have heard that Daikon radishes also can do the same trick as Burdock, both send roots down around 15 feet. If I feel the Dandelions are getting out of hand, I cut off their flower heads before they can spread. I am so excited to have a second-year Mullein to watch over my garden this summer and provide food (their seeds) for the birds in the fall. Quack Grass metabolizes Calcium that may be in my soil by tied up (chemically unavailable). Upon Micki’s suggestion, to aid in getting rid of the rhizomeous grass, I have mulched with Comfrey (a great source of Calcium) gathered from the neighborhood patch.
In my back yard, Ground Ivy (or as Minnesotans say, “Creeping Charlie”) has proliferated into a stunning carpet of purple when it flowers. Ground Ivy is wonderful at absorbing lead and other heavy metals in our body and in our yards; funny how the more my neighbor sprays chemical pesticides in his lawn the more Ground Ivy grows in my lawn! At the end of the season, I pull it out and put it in the trash; I suspect it is full of toxic chemicals and can’t muster up the nerve to compost it.
Some of the volunteers in my garden beds are great edibles: crunchy Purslane and Lambs Quarters, one of my favorite steamed greens. Chickweed grows under the shade of the red maple in the front yard, and Forget-me-nots line the cracks in the pavement. Even Plantains growing in the cracks are trying to their job of breaking up soil. I don’t use a lot of the plants in my yard for eating and medicine because of they grow too close to the driveway (or in the driveway), I value them because I feel that part of their life is creating a healthier environment. I have realized my role as a gardener is to facilitate.